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Software problems caused delay in election results

Future Henry County Clerk Jenny Grubbs, left, accepts paperwork from Carol Wilson (front right) and Cynthia Brown (back right), poll workers from the Whittier Lane Baptist Church vote center. Wilson and Brown were the first of 12 vote centers to return to the Henry County Justice Center Tuesday evening.

By KATIE CLONTZ - kclontz@thecouriertimes.com

Election results were delayed Tuesday evening and Henry County Clerk Debbie Walker said problems with the newly-purchased election software, specifically the scanners, were to blame. 

“Our new equipment that we bought, the scanners aren’t working properly ... they work as long as it’s not a handwritten ballot, but we are fixing it. That’s what is taking so long,” Walker explained Tuesday evening.

In order to fix the problem, a bipartisan team transitioned the handwritten ballots to an electronic version the scanners would accept.

Walker assured voters the issue did not affect accuracy; it just took longer to get final totals, which came in around 11:35 p.m. Tuesday. Henry County was among one of the last counties in the state to report its results. 

The election software, which has only been used in one previous election, the May primary, was purchased from Election Systems & Software (ES&S), a company based in Omaha, Nebraska, Walker said. The equipment for all 12 of Henry County’s vote centers cost roughly $717,000. 

“We’re working with elections officials and looking into the issue,” the ES&S media relations department said in a statement emailed to The Courier-Times late Wednesday morning. 

Though The Courier-Times asked ES&S several specific questions about the issues experienced in Henry County and throughout the state, the company failed to answer them. 

Walker said a solution to the problem’s Henry County experienced is up in the air, but the clerk’s office will work with ES&S to resolve it. 

And Henry County wasn’t the only county that reported experiencing ES&S software issues.

Fox 59 reported that Johnson County had issues with its e-poll books that checked people in, which caused long lines throughout the day, though the issue was eventually resolved. 

Counting absentee ballots also slowed down the process in Henry County. Around 7:20 p.m. Tuesday, Walker said about 50 percent of Henry County absentee ballots had been counted. At that same time, less than half of the county’s 12 polling locations had reported to the clerk’s office to turn in their results.

“The process wasn’t as smooth as we thought it would be, unfortunately, but that’s a vendor issue we have to resolve,” Walker said of the software problems. “The vote centers ran great. We had no problems there.”

Most vote centers throughout the county reported a steady turnout all day long with minimal wait times for voters to cast their ballots. Henry County’s voter turnout was 52.35 percent. 

New Castle resident Rex Peckinpaugh worked as a judge at the American Legion vote center in New Castle. Tuesday was his first time being a poll worker, though his vote center was one person short. 

“We ended up being one person short because one of the inspectors had a death in the family, so they took one of our judges and made her the inspector, but everything was fine, no complaints,” Peckinpaugh said. “We didn’t really have any problems where we were. The machines worked well. We had a very steady flow all day long and there were times when there were good-size lines, but the voters were very cordial when they did have to wait.”

One thing Peckinpaugh noticed, however, was that some people had difficulty navigating the voting machines.

“The machines themselves worked fine. It was just confusing though for people who want to vote straight ticket and then had to keep tapping the button and the next button,” he said. “It just seems to me they could have programed the machines to be a little more simple. Some of the older folks had a difficult time. It would be nice if it was simple enough they could do it without help.”

Peckinpaugh said one or two of his vote center’s machines did go down, but the vendor came out and got them working again. However, the downed machines didn’t impact the voting flow, he said. 

Peckinpaugh also praised the Henry County Clerk’s Office for their efforts.

“I have never actually been a poll worker before. I thought the clerk’s office did a great job in trying to train us and responding to issues,” he said. “They had a few more issues than they thought they would have because of the machines.”

Tuesday was Walker’s last election as Henry County clerk. Next year, she will become Henry County auditor. The clerk’s role will be handed over to Jennifer Grubbs. 

In Tuesday’s election, Walker, a Republican, ran unopposed for the auditor’s position and received 13,121 votes. Grubbs, also a Republican who ran unopposed, received 13,058 votes. 

Henry County’s election results will officially be certified after 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16.